Wine making in the Northeast US is a difficult in even the best years. The area is challenged with getting grapes enough sunlight and warmth to ripen, frost is a constant spring and fall threat and humidity in the summer makes the prospect of fungal disease much more likely. So when you taste a great northeast wine you have to take notice.
Rob and Bill Russell at Westport Rivers in Massachusetts have consistently made great wines - particularly sparkling wines. These two brothers know how to work with both the weather conditions and plant material - clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - so that they get both the most flavor and structure from their wines. Westport Rivers is not making simple tourist wines. Rather, their products are serious wines. The basic Brut Spakling Wine has pointed crisp acidity and great citrus notes that makes it a perfect pairing to creamy cheeses, oysters or even Lobster.
Most consumers don't think of Long Island, New York as a major wine region. The area often gets overshadowed by the more famous Finger Lakes AVA. That is a shame because Long Island is doing some great things with vinifera grapes - particularly with the red varieties Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These grapes benefit from the fact that Long Island vineyards get more Gulf Stream warming influence than their New England counterparts. The results are red wines with good ripeness and crisp acidty. Juicy cherry, red currant, red plum and cranberry flavors mark many Long Island reds and make them perfect summer wines.
I recently tasted a number of wines from One Woman Winery in Southold, New York on Long Island's North Fork. Winemaker Claudia Purita grew up in Calabria Italy and her wines have the ripe fruit character of that region. The wines were impressive and showed ripe, clean fruit and careful winemaking with attention to detail. I particularly liked One Woman's two Merlot wines. The One Woman Rosé is a fruit driven wine with a lot of cherry and red berry notes. It has great acidity making it both refreshing and versatile -- it will work equally well with food or as a sipping wine. The One Woman red Merlot, has more dark plum and spice cake notes, but still maintains the clean, crisp acid quality which gives it a brightness and lively character. Ripe fleshy tannins add body and structure to this wine and make it a great pairing for grilled chicken, beef or pork.
Northeast US wines are not the easiest to find on store shelves or restaurant lists. In fact, most are sold "cellar door" style at the wineries themselves. Still, if you find yourself traveling in the region look out for these wines. They will give you a totally new perspective on what the Notheast can do with vinifera grapes.